Senator wants speaker fee returned
COLUMBIA — While other lawmakers worked to cut $500 million from the state budget, Sen. Chip Campsen was worried about folks at USC palling around with terrorists.
Campsen on Thursday called for the University of South Carolina to give back the money it paid to '60s-era radical Bill Ayers for speaking engagements he has made on the Columbia campus over the years. Campsen suggested the money be used to teach more classes on the Constitution.
The Isle of Palms Republican offered the proposal as a budget amendment during Thursday's debate before withdrawing it.
"It's very important we do something about this and send a message to USC," Campsen said.
University President Harris Pastides in a pre-released statement said that USC paid Ayers travel expenses and a small stipend, like any guest speaker, totaling $2,656 in state funds for eight lectures in 13 years.
"His occasional lectures here have always been focused solely on education, his professional expertise area," Pastides said of Ayers. "He has never been invited to our campus to espouse any political beliefs nor to discuss any of his past behaviors in support of those beliefs."
Earlier this month, Ayers made headlines when Republican Vice Presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin said Democratic President nominee Sen. Barack Obama had been "palling around with terrorists" by serving on boards with Ayers.
Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group. He is now an education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins, asked Campsen if he approves of every speaker whose stood before students at the College of Charleston and if it was his intent to censor them too.
"I am no fan of William Ayers," Jackson said. "But I am a fan of open education."
Campsen said he was not censoring Ayers and that he supports free speech. He said he just doesn't want state money to go toward paying for someone like Ayers to influence the state's future educators.
After occupying the Senate's attention for 30 minutes, Campsen withdrew the amendment saying he didn't want to hinder the special session. But, he said, he will consider introducing legislation on the matter in January.
Given Palin's heavily criticized statements recently on the job of a vice president, when asked if the VP nominee could benefit from such a crash course on the Constitution, Campsen said "no."
"I think she has a very good understanding of the Constitution and federalism," Campsen said.